“Are… are you sure about this?”
The words hung heavy in the air. J fought back a sigh. He was already regretting having a tag-along. He usually did this alone for a reason. “Yes, kid, I’m sure,” J replied, easily cutting through the thick overgrowth with his machete. “The lil’ beast is a threat to fowl and goats—or your unlucky cows, sure, but us? We’ll be fine. If you’re scared, you can turn around.”
Despite the sun beginning its descent in the west, the heat was inescapable. The humid air left J’s hair sticking to his forehead. He was considering cutting it all off again—a habit he gained after he left Romania. Growing it out long, then chopping it all off, rinse and repeat every half year.
“It’s easy to get lost here if you aren’t familiar,” his companion, one wiry kid by the name of Jaime, replied. “Very easy.” The chicken nestled in his arms seemed to cluck in agreement.
J didn’t fight the sigh this time. It wasn’t like he had a bad sense of direction. Sure, the forest grew thick and dark here, but he had found himself lost in worse places.
Jaime’s family had insisted someone come, and they were paying him. He felt like he couldn’t refuse when the task wasn’t even dangerous—in his eyes, anyways. So, J had relented to an escort—even if that escort was a teen who hadn’t quite grown into his limbs yet. “Right, thanks. We’ll find your little troublemaker soon enough.”
“I hope so,” Jaime replied.
Silence settled over them, only slightly more comfortable than the sweltering air. Even the chicken didn’t seem to be one for small talk. They continued through the thick overgrowth, the mountains of Puerto Rico looming over them—watching them, as the shadows grew long and dark.
The sun had begun to kiss the horizon when Jaime spoke up again. “Is this something,” he hesitated before finding his voice once more, “...that you do often?”
“Guys gotta eat, right?” J replied. They were both speaking English; an interesting experience when neither spoke it natively and both had strong accents. It left them pausing often as they parsed each other’s words. This wasn’t anything new to J, though. “Not purposely,” he clarified, “I mostly just travel around, and stumble into things like this. Sometimes I’m paid, sometimes I just do it anyways.”
“So, you just, go around and fight monsters? Is there that many?” Jaime asked, glancing around. The shadows were stretched long in the sinking light. Jaime eyed them warily, tense as the chatter of animals picked up for a moment.
“Not as many as it sounds. A lot of the time I’m really just taking in the sights and doing odd jobs,” J explained, coming to a stop in a clearing. “But trouble has a habit of finding me, so I’ve definitely dealt with my fair share of the supernatural.”
Jaime stopped behind him, nearly ramming J over. Still spooked by the prospect of monsters in the dark. “I see… I just never thought—”
“Shhh.” J pressed a finger to his mouth. He crouched down, motioning for Jaime to do the same—quietly. “I sense it. It’s nearby,” J whispered. His hands gripped the bag he wore; its weight, the feeling of metal digging into his back, his knife strapped to it—all a reminder of why he was here.
Jaime frowned. His eyes moved around wildly, trying to take in each and every detail of the area without moving a single muscle. A breeze rustled the thick canopy of trees, mixing with the cries of the birds that called the El Yunque forest their home. Jaime’s chicken, one beautiful brown hen named Rosa, clucked along with them. Jaime was rather fond of the creature—and the whole coup they had back home, even though his family were cattle farmers by trade.
A sharp crack resounded through the forest, the crunching of plants accompanying it. Jaime tensed behind J, nearly jumping out of his skin when several parrots took the sky. Their cries sounded almost indignant; startled, by J’s prey.
J stayed stock still. He had been like Jaime, once; tense and jumpy at every little sound. Now? Now, he had years of experience behind him—try as he might, he really did have a bad habit of finding himself in supernatural messes. Perhaps the monsters of the night were attracted to him, like a magnet to iron. Perhaps it was just bad luck. Over time, J had gotten used to it; taken advantage of it, even. After all, despite being in his fifties now, he was in many ways still that lost young man who had awoken in a hospital one cold September day, just trying to survive in a world that was a stranger to him.
Rustling kept J’s attention on the trees. There—between the thick leaves, about a foot from the ground: the gleam of an eye suited for hunting at night. With the sun getting ever lower in the sky, the creature was preparing for the hunt to come. Cautiously, a blue-gray head poked out of the foliage, hairless and wrinkly.
“Chupacabra,” Jaime breathed.
“And now we just have to catch it,” J said, grabbing the trap off his back. He moved with a practiced grace. “We’ll need Rosa for this.”
“Will she be okay?” Jaime asked, clutching his bird closer. Rosa just clicked in response, clearly used to being manhandled like this.
“Yes, I promise.” J lowered the trap gingerly to the ground. His movements were careful, calculated—too much sound and they’d scare off their target.
Said target was making its way out of the foliage, unaware of the predators lurking nearby.
The creature was thin, all leathery skin and sinewy muscle. It was canid in appearance, in that slightly wrong way a greyhound was. Its long snout pulled back to reveal uneven fangs—they gave J a rather amusing image of a vampire with braces, for whatever reason. The creature moved with a surprising amount of grace, padding carefully along the ground, claws digging into the soft dirt. Its back was arched high, almost unnaturally so, the spinous processes easily visible just under the skin, along its tail.
J’s eyes never left the Chupacabra for a second.
“I thought it was supposed to be a reptile?” Jaime murmured.
“Cryptid reports aren’t always concise and reliable,” J admitted, giving a shrug. “Especially if they don’t get a good look at it.” He set the trap up without even a glance to his hands, moving with an ease only experience could give.
“What if it smells us?” Jaime asked, placing Rosa into the metal trap. There would be metal between her and the Chupacabra, though J knew it wouldn’t deter the creature. If fences were able to stop the Chupacabra from getting its meal, Jaime’s family wouldn’t have needed help in the first place.
“That might be good, actually. If it’s hunting around your farm, it might associate the scent of humans with food,” J explained. He grabbed onto Jaime’s arm, grip gentle on the boy’s wrist as they backed farther into the treeline.
The forest was awash in a dull blue, twilight all but finished. The Chupacabra seemed to disappear, blending into the dark. Even straining J eyes, he struggled to pick it out from the scenery. J didn’t dare create any light—it could scare the nocturnal creature—so he had to rely on his ears.
The padding of paws across the dirt and grass. Closer, now, but featherlight. The stride of a creature used to moving in the dark, used to taking it slow and quiet as to not wake its kill.
Rosa clucked. Next—rustling feathers as she settled into her cage. Diurnal birds liked to sleep as soon as it got dark, after all.
J waited with bated breath. He could practically hear Jaime’s heart thudding beside him, but he paid it no heed.
The cry of an animal—a yelp that could perhaps belong to a dog, but a bat-like edge. Metal hit metal—the slamming of the trap door. Victory.
J was on his feet in one easy movement. He fished a flashlight out of his pocket, shining it on the live trap—revealing the glint of the creature's dark eyes. It growled, gnawing on the metal bars, feet clawing at the dirt as it tried to escape, get to its meal, anything.
J removed Rosa, leaving the Chupacabra to its fate. It snarled at him, making a swipe with its claws. J paid it no mind, as he returned the sleeping hen to Jaime’s arms.
“So… now we kill it?” Jaime asked, voice soft, staring down at the snarling animal. He didn’t dare get too close, but J recognised that curious glint in his eyes. It was only fair—not many people got to be this close to a Chupacabra, rare as they were—even if the creature had been harassing livestock for months.
“No,” J replied. He grabbed onto the handle of the trap, ignoring the hisses from inside. He began to head towards the forest once more, flashlight clasped tight in his other hand. The Chupacabra struggled against its confinement, but J paid it no mind. Even if it escaped—which he doubted—he still had his knife and machete strapped to him.
“No?” Jaime repeated. He followed J, fumbling to turn on his own light. “But that thing has been killing our livestock! It’s a monster, right?” Jaime skidded to a stop in front of J. He stared J down, warm brown eyes meeting J’s own. The Chupacabra whined as it curled up, away from Jaime’s light.
“It’s true that it has been causing you trouble,” J said. He spoke slowly, softly, trying to choose his words carefully. “But it’s no monster.”
“What?” Jaime snapped, eyeing the creature for a moment. They were a lot alike, Jaime and the Chupacabra—a bundle of nerves. J had a feeling the darkness settling over them like a blanket was not helping. “How is that not a monster? It’s evil, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not,” J said, side stepping around Jaime to push farther up the mountain. “For something to be truly evil, it has to know right from wrong. The Chupacabra is an animal; it has no concept of morality, or evilness, or even the troubles it’s causing you. It’s just an animal, not a monster, and nothing more.”
Jaime was silent. If it weren’t for the sounds of his footsteps or the bobbing of his light, J wouldn’t have realised the boy was still walking with him. “...then why help?”
“Because animals can still be dangerous and cause problems,” Julius explained. “You don’t have to be evil for that to be true. Like with any animal, I’m taking it someplace to release it where it can’t cause harm.” He adjusted his grip on the cage. The creature was silent now, accepting its fate for the time being.
“Will that keep it away?” Jaime asked. He pressed Rosa closer to his chest, feeling her little heart beating alongside his own.
“It should, hopefully, if it’s in a good spot far enough away. Chupacabra are like vampire bats; they need to eat every night or else they die, as blood is not really nutritional,” J continued. “As a result, they tend to favour livestock; they’re confined to the same place every night. It’s a guaranteed meal. And much like those bats, they do not mean any harm; they’re just trying to survive, unaware their kills affect the lives of humans, unaware that they can spread disease.”
Jaime mulled over his words. “I’m sorry,” he began. “I didn’t mean to come off so trigger happy.”
“It’s fine, Jaime,” J said, surveying the area. They had scaled some of the mountain. The tree range made it too hard to tell how far away they were from civilization, however.
Were they far enough away? Julius would just have to hope. “You have your reasons for it. I guess I’m just a little soft. I’ve learned, after all my years, not to assume the worst of the night and all her offspring.” He paused. “If it returns, you may have to kill it, like it any pest, but for now…”
“It’s an innocent creature, technically. It’s just trying to live,” Jaime finished.
“But don’t worry if this sort of empathy is hard for you,” J assured. “Perhaps one day I’ll be the idiot for having sympathy for the wolves—the very same uncaring as they devour me.”
Jaime made a strangled sound at that. “Dark, much?”
“I don’t have the best sense of humour, I suppose,” J chuckled.
He sat the trap down onto the soft earth. “I’d say we’re in the national park by now. This might be a good spot for it—away from farms. Lots of wildlife. And there’s probably already more hiding around—likely even some from the same litter—so we’re not likely to upset the ecosystem.”
Jaime stepped back, putting J between him and the creature. J removed his machete from his side, using it to lift the door of the trap—no point in risking a bite, that was just asking for an infection. The Chupacabra bolted out, snarling at its assailants as it disappeared into the dark The sounds echoed, before disappearing, lost to the forest chatter.
J sheathed his machete. He went to work on packing the trap up, his light laying half haphazardly on a slope. Jaime looked around warily, before his eyes rested upon J’s back.
“What about monsters—ones that do know right from wrong?” Jaime asked.
J paused, hand hovering over his work. “What about them?” he parroted.
“Would you have killed them?”
“Yes, if I felt like it was the only way,” J answered, as he finished packing. “The thing is… the term monster may sound negative, but the reality is—is, well, that they’re still living creatures like you or me. They’re not inherently more capable of cruelty or kindness than anyone else. It… was a hard lesson to learn, but it’s one I’ve carried with me.”
J climbed to his feet; the trap slung around his shoulders.
“...thank you,” Jaime said. His hands threaded into Rosa’s feathers. “You’re an interesting man, J. Let’s head back, I’m sure my mother will love to have you for a late dinner, as an extra thanks for everything.”
J gave a small smile. They began the long walk back to Jaime’s farm. “I wouldn’t want to intrude, but… if you’ll have me. I can’t stay long, though. I have an important plane to catch tomorrow.”
“A plane? To where?” Jaime asked, blinking owlishly at J.
J grinned. “To Japan.”
Travelling on fake visas and passports made him nervous.
For the most part, he lived a normal life—or as normal of a life as an amnesiac traveler could be. Never staying in one place, learning new things, and meeting new faces. J searched desperately for an answer to who he was, chasing any lead he caught wind of.
Once those winds died down to nothing, he worked on focusing on the future—on finding a place for himself now, in his new life.
Settling down never worked. J felt restless before long, so travel was his way of life. Having no real identity caused issues, but nothing some under the counter work and a few favours from shady people couldn’t fix.
Getting into Japan had been nerve-wracking—American airport security was tight, and he worried they had realised his passport was fake. The anxiety of being caught stayed with him even as he sat staring out the airplane window, clouds racing by, the ocean nothing but blue stretching for miles below.
J had already lost around 20 years of his life to the void that took the place of his memory, and he didn’t fancy losing anymore to jail time. Customs in Japan was a breeze, at least.
Japan was beautiful, as were many of the places he had traveled. J seared each place he visited into his memory, clinging to them for dear life. He feared forgetting more than anything—more than Dracula—and all J wanted was to remember every detail of the life he had spent years carving out for himself since awaking in that hospital.
The eclipse was still far away—over a year—but he supposed that merely gave him time to work on his Japanese. Long international flights were not a good place to brush up on it, he had learned. First, though, he needed a place to stay.
“Well,” J murmured to himself, “time to get to work.”
He just hoped that whatever waited for him on that day was good. He didn’t fancy losing any more of his memories.
The sun rose that day like any other. J rose with it. Such a thing was uncharacteristic for him. Oh, he had seen his share of sunrises—usually in the context of being up after a long night.
He couldn’t sleep. The eclipse was today—and culmination of the last thirty-five years of his entire known life. What would it bring? Answers, questions, sorrow, happiness? Anything at all? Or would it just be another page in his notebook, an unremarkable footnote in a life full of the supernatural?
J’s eyes lingered on his battered leather-bound book. It carried everything he had learned since he had woken up on the fateful fall day in Romania. It was his only reminder that he was real, he existed—and was a backup plan if he somehow were to experience amnesia again. At least then he’d have his own ramblings to turn for answers instead of being a lost babe in the woods once more.
He was getting too old for that to be as nearly as pitiable.
J grunted as he heaved himself out of bed. He knew there was no way he was going to fall back asleep anytime soon. It was time to prepare for the unknown.
The world was in darkness, the sun blotted out by the moon. Julius felt a wave of fear roll over him, something important just out of reach from his mind. He swallowed thickly. The shrine was still a world away—but it was the best vantage point to see the eclipse. He needed to make it to the top—fast. Time was dwindling. If he missed this window, then it had all been for naught. He’d die without ever knowing anything—about himself, about the prophecy.
He didn’t need to worry. He reached the top in a blink. His breath caught in his throat. Dracula’s castle loomed over him, familiar and foreign all at once.
That name still sent shivers down his spine whenever he thought about it. His stomach churned, warning him to stay away. But J knew he couldn’t; not only in hopes to stop the prophecy, to stop… to stop what? A threat that chilled him to the bone for reasons unknown?
Whatever. He’d had a job to do, and he was going to do it, reason be damned. He had to have some sort of connection to Dracula, after all—the werewolf all those years ago had known him, had connected him to its supposed dark lord.
It was one of the few hints to his past life he had. Dracula was likely the reason for his amnesia, and that thought scared him as much as it thrilled him. Maybe, maybe he’d get his memories back. Maybe, maybe, he’d lose even more.
Or maybe nothing would happen, and he’d be as lost as he always had been, just like every other supernatural encounter before.
After all, who was to say he was to run to Dracula? The prophecy spoke of someone inheriting his powers, so it was possible Dracula was no more—or would soon not be.
But he had hope. Hope had been his one companion since he awoke in 1999. It wasn’t about to leave him now. There was one thing he was sure of: he wasn’t going into the maw of the monster alone.
J had found out, not long after that fateful night under the full moon, that he was magic. It had been bitterly funny, finding that out after having almost perished at the hands of a werewolf capable of similar feats. He couldn’t do much, admittedly, but that magic still hummed under his skin, there to reach for whenever he wanted. It was useful in combat and not much else.
There was one perk, however. It allowed him to feel out a connection to other magical beings, human or not. A lighthouse in a storm, illuminating what was around him to make out a simple shape. Feelings, intentions, the general ‘type’; not much gained, but enough to help with any battle plans.
In the castle, it was suffocating. There were magical creatures aplenty—most drowning in a dark power, black and inky, telling only of bloodlust and a want to serve their dark lord. There were differences between them; some more earthy, some just a little left of human, others like sea salt or incense. Some far worse. He didn’t like to dwell.
There were a handful that stood out—blazing against the backdrop.
Two dark spots moved on a mission—not roaming monsters, but maybe people vying for the power of Dracula. On the front steps, outside—a figure at first glance that seemed to be serene, sweet, but held the power of the sun just below the surface. Another person—powerful, a swirl of the arcane without any taint of darkness.
Then there was the one he couldn’t pinpoint. Gold mixing with black; something that seemed almost at war, blood mingled with witch hazel. There was a familiarity to it, one he couldn’t place—but he hoped it was good. After all, hadn’t Crina assured him he couldn’t be completely without people from his old life?
Maybe he’d finally get a true answer to that.
Oh, and he was pretty sure there was someone there with no magic whatsoever. It was a guess. The downside was that if someone had no connection to any magic or magical energies, he was blind to their presence.
It had felt odd going straight through the front door but really: what else did he have to lose?
(everything, and yet, nothing)
Dracula’s castle was huge. That wasn’t a surprise. The monsters infesting its halls weren’t either. Even the fact that it carried an odd familiarity wasn’t all that big of a deal to him. These things were to be expected.
The fact that it was a maze that made no damn sense, however, was a shock.
How the hell was anyone supposed to live here? Let alone Dracula and his legion of monsters? No wonder they were wandering like lost souls without a leader; they probably were lost.
J had passed what felt like the eighth identical painting in the dance hall when he felt it—when it chilled him to the core. A presence. Someone —someone strong. Friend, or foe? J had weapons on him regardless. (How good would they be against Dracula, though?)
He stayed still at the foot of a short staircase. The baroque designs of the hallway would have been breathtaking, if he wasn’t already suffocating on the dark magic of the castle that invaded his senses.
Before him—a boy. A child. What?
The young man was ethereal, short hair a stark white, matching the fur on his jacket. The rest of his outfit was basic—black turtleneck, blue jeans. Japanese, likely. But it wasn’t his odd looks that caught J off guard. Or even his age.
It was the sense of dread that constricted J’s chest, the dark energy coming off the child in waves. One of the dark spots, like cigarette burns on a map, that he had sensed.
There was something off about this child. Something that pawed at the edge of his memories.
The prophecy rang through J’s head, as it often liked to do; it was a future that had haunted him his entire life.
The boy was running towards him—yet to notice J.
He didn’t look dangerous, but J knew better to jump to conclusions. There was no point in tact; not with the prophecy weighing heavy on his shoulders. “Strange,” he began, watching the boy jump in surprise, sword in hand, looking like a frightened cat. “I sense a dark power within you. Who are you?” He spoke in Japanese, accented but passable.
J liked to think of himself as an ‘ask questions first, fight later’ kind of guy. Perhaps it was stupid, but it hadn’t killed him.
Mistakes in the past—being both too trusting and not trusting enough—stayed with him, heavy on his conscious. J also had to grapple with that little voice in his head, the very same one that loved to give him vague advice too little too late—telling him that not all creatures of the night were inherently vile.
(J liked to call that voice Before J—before, as in before his amnesia. Before J knew many things that he did not and wasn’t good at conveying these things.
Before J was also a total asshole).
The boy huffed, puffing up like an owl as he spoke. “It’s rude to ask questions before introducing yourself.” The fur on his jacket was to make him look bigger, apparently.
J couldn’t help but snort. Lively punk, at least. But why was he here? Trapped civilians didn’t carry swords like they were born wielding one. “Yeah, you’re right. People call me J.”
The boy’s stance relaxed; his sword sheathed. “People call you J?” He repeated, gazing at J with an incredulous look, one eyebrow raised. “Why hide your real name? Are you a criminal?” The kid kept his hand on his sword, grip tight enough to turn his knuckles white. Impressive—because J was pretty sure he has never met any one so pale. It was like someone had given life to the white rabbit in the moon.
J leaned against the wall, ignoring the dig of the side panelling, eyes closed for a moment. J could lie, he knew, or avoid the question. But what did he have to lose, anymore than the risk that this damned castle came with? “No,” J said, voice serious. “I suffer from amnesia. I was told I was in an accident in 1999—when I awoke in the hospital, I had forgotten everything. My name, my past. All gone.”
The kid stared, in surprise rather than distrust. His hand left his weapon. “Oh,” he said, voice small. “I see. I’m sorry for pushing. I’m Soma.” The tension in his body melted away.
Soma… Soma. Genuine something—blue perhaps, or the sound of the wind. It depended on the characters used. It was an interesting name. He had met someone in India, around Calcutta, with that name once.
(He wasn’t sure why he cared about the meaning, really, except for a distant voice that told him about the power of names. Or perhaps it was easy to cling to the meaning of others when you yourself had no real name to call your own.)
J watched Soma closely, taking him in. He couldn’t shake the feeling from before, dread mixing with a sense of déjà vu.
The latter scared him the most.
“Your dark power,” J pressed, “were you born with it?”
Soma frowned—a small quirk of his lips, really. “I don’t really know,” he admitted with a shrug of the shoulders. “I… I first noticed it when I entered this castle.”
J’s face softened. Maybe he was being too on guard. This was probably some poor child cursed with magic who had gotten tangled in Dracula’s web by mistake. “I see.” He stared at the scars on his hands for a moment. “I guess I was mistaken.” Not a threat; not an old face (Soma was too young anyways, for J to have met him before his amnesia).
Soma stepped closer; his head titled. “Mr. J, why are here? In this castle, I mean?”
“Just call me J, kid,” J chuckled. He knew it was probably natural for Soma to default to -san; in his experience the Japanese people he had met were all very polite, favoring formal language. If he had a surname, he was sure Soma would be using it now—something he never really had gotten used to over the last year. He had never considered having a family name, at least not one he used more than once. It felt wrong—wrong in a way that got under his skin.
The mirth was short lived. “Honestly…” J said, rubbing at his facial hair. “Fear. It’s fear. Every time I hear that name, Dracula, I get filled with this sense of panicked urgency. Like I need to do something, like my adrenaline is spiking. And of course, because of the prophecy, do you know what one I mean?”
Soma nodded. Someone must have told him too. It seemed more people knew of it than he had assumed. He was used to being alone, after all, even when it came to the supernatural.
People here, all because of a prophecy he had first heard 35 years ago… but was that good? Were they here to stop it, or ensure it came to pass?
“...I also hoped perhaps my memory would return,” J admitted, sighing softly. “Since my arrival, I’ve felt like something is scratching at my brain, trying to break through, but it’s just there, just out of reach….”
Soma nodded, listening intently. “And your accident? That was in 1999, right? Do you think… maybe Dracula was involved?”
“I fear that might be the case,” J replied, running a hand through his ponytail. He wasn’t sure of the significance of the date with Dracula, but it seemed likely. “Especially since, like you, I have magical powers. I feel like that might be what connects most of the people here. In all my travels, I’ve never ran into so many people with magic in one place, not even with other paranormal monsters and events.”
Soma made a face, thinking for a moment. He showed his emotions on his sleeve, J noted. “Are you an exorcist or something?”
“Well, you might say that, but I work for only myself. No church, no shady cult,” J said. It hadn’t stopped people from trying to recruit him anyways though. In the distance, a clock chimed, echoing through the winding halls. Right—he was wasting time. “...I should go. I’m sure we’ll met again, Soma.”
J gave the boy a lazy salute as he turned to go back the way he came. Maybe he had taken a wrong turn because he was pretty sure he had seen the painting Soma stood beside already.
“Yeah! See ya!” Soma replied, waving excitedly. He was so young. And so human. But why couldn’t J shake the feeling that something about the kid was wrong?
Maybe the castle would have answers. He only hoped he wasn’t walking into a bloodbath.
“Goddamn cats,” J hissed. He angrily bandaged his fingers. He definitely was not pouting, thank you.
He hated cats, he decided. Or at least ones that were also witch’s familiars. They were more annoying than the witches themselves (Wait, when had he ever met a witch? …perhaps not this lifetime.)
Ugh! It stung, bad, likely infected with bacteria already. Nasty little—
Something—someone—chuckled at his grumbling. J’s heart jumped into his throat. He had thought he was alone. He felt it now—another ink blot soul, this one like a void; a reflection of Soma’s in some ways, yet so different in others.
J stood up straight. Right—he needed to be on guard. This place was dangerous—it wasn’t just cats he had to worry about. The sound had come from the floor below him. He draped his hands over the railing, glancing down from the dark hallway he had was in, to the foyer illuminated by chandelier light below.
“They can be quite nasty, can’t they?” the voice continued. It was a man—much like Soma, he was clad in bone white.
“Can’t they ever; be better if the cuts didn’t get infected so easily,” J agreed, trying to hide his discomfort. Even if someone looked human, it didn’t mean they were. But Soma had been nice, despite his dark magic; this man, clean cut with his suit and tie, could be the same.
The man gave a good-natured laugh. J felt himself relaxing, ever so slightly; that chilling edge the first chuckle had seemed to be gone. Damn paranoia.
“Are you here by mistake as well, like that boy Soma?” the man asked. “Ah, right—my name is Graham. I’m a missionary.”
A missionary? From the Church? Maybe J had been jumping to conclusions too easily. He supposed it made sense that they had sent someone to defeat Dracula. The Church had bothered him enough after all. Wanting him to help them fight for the greater good, or God, or whatever—but J had never been interested. He’d rather handle this himself.
God hadn’t been there for him when he lost his memories.
“No. I came here to find something out. I’m J, by the way,” J said. He moved to the stairs, grabbing the candelabra he had been using. The floor he was on was enchanted, cloaked in a nearly inescapable darkness. It was like it was swallowing up the light before it could penetrate it too far. Yet, it stayed stationary in the hall, not even a shadow spilling into the foyer below. Probably connected to the coven the cats belonged too—but it made noticing them in the darkness a bitch.
J made his way for the stairs. He missed having light.
“I see. This place is full of secrets,” Graham said. “I came here for a similar reason. You know of the prophecy, correct?” The light from the foyer haloed around him. J almost felt jealous—he had been stumbling in the dark for far too long.
“Yes,” J sad, taking the steps slow. He’d rather not miss a step—he wasn’t in the mood for some more burn scars. The light of the chandelier—untouched by whatever spell he had been suffering in—seemed to warm his very bones. “I am. I’m interested in seeing how that plays out myself.”
Graham turned to face him; likely he had been struggling to follow J’s voice, lost in the inky blackness of the spell. “I—” Graham cut himself off with a strangled sound as his eyes met J’s. The man blanched, slowly taking a few steps back. “You—” he began, voice a mix of fear and venom.
J stood there. His hand still gripped the candelabra. What the hell?
It was official. His true enemy wasn’t Dracula—it was his fucking castle. Who built a castle like this?! “I’m going to burn this place to the ground,” J muttered. “Again.”
He couldn’t say he disliked the faint memories that had been nestling in his head as he wandered, but he wished they didn’t paint the picture of such a violent life. (Then again, he had been a scrappy kid, hadn’t he?)
J stumbled, feet catching on the uneven stone below him. The world around him spun, a mix of colours and auras. He felt like he was drowning in nothing, miasma filling his throat and cutting off all air.
He fell to his knees. The pain was background noise to the buzzing in his head. He felt like… like he was experiencing an entire lifetime again, images and words flashing through his mind at a rapid pace. He shivered, his skin feeling cold and clammy as his mind raced to make sense of things, to bring him back to reality.
Something solid was against his back. A stone pillar, he managed to make out, as he leaned his full weight against it. At least he didn’t feel like he was going to keel over anymore. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton.
“J?” came a voice, breaking through the dreamlike state of his mind. “Are you okay? You look pale…”
J took in a deep breath, trying to configure his thoughts for just a moment. “Don’t worry,” he said, pressing the palm of his hands against his eyes for a moment. “Just… my memories. It felt like they had come flooding back. I just. Need a moment, to make sense of this all.”
“What?!” Soma. He had the clarity to know that it was Soma. That was good. Improvement was good. Now if only he could form some coherent thoughts.
The older man swallowed, his mouth feeling dry as everything finally began to fall into place. His worries returned in full force. Now… now he was not just a letter, a wanderer—he was Julius Belmont, the last living member of the Belmont family that had fought Dracula for a millennium.
Julius staggered to his feet.
He turned, facing Soma finally, as he spoke, “Dark powers triggered their return.” Maybe yours went unspoken. “And, like I had guessed, I have quite an extensive history with Dracula.” Ha—that was putting it lightly. He had been raised to fight the man.
Soma sobered at his words, a serious look in his eyes; he understood the gravity of Julius’s words. “I had a feeling.”
“My real name,” he began, “is Julius. Julius Belmont.” It felt foreign on his tongue, his name clashing with Japanese that spilled out of his mouth, but yet. Yet—they felt so right. After so many years of living life alone, it was odd to have a name, a history—a family. But it felt so natural to call himself Julius, to think of the family he had adored and grew up with. “My family… we’ve fought against Dracula for ages.”
Soma titled his head, staring into Julius’s very soul with sharp eyes. “...so then… the person who killed Dracula in 1999 was…”
“Yes,” Julius breathed, and for a moment, he felt like he was there, like he was back in the castle in 1999, fighting for his life—fighting against the flames, the rock monsters, and Dracula himself. What a monster he had been, corrupted so heavily by years of vile hatred. “Yes, it was me. But,” he paused, sadness gripping at his chest. “There were others who assisted me.” His parents. His siblings. His family, his friends—most of them likely gone now. Some he knew were dead for sure. None close enough to find him, or perhaps repelled by the very same curse that left him without an identity.
There were survivors other than him, he knew. But he wasn’t sure if it was anyone he had been close to—except—
Alucard… was he okay? Had—wait, that presence he had felt, black magic, just slight off, like a reflection on an imperfect surface. It had been him, hadn’t it? Alucard was here. That man, with the long dark hair… something about him had given Julius chills, and now he knew why: with his hair dark like that, Alucard looked so much like a younger Dracula, instead of resembling his mother. They would have to talk when this was over.
When this was over, ha! Even after all this, after living an entire life without knowing who he was, he was ever the optimist.
“So,” Soma began, snapping Julius out of his thoughts once more. “If Dracula is revived again, just as it is written—”
“Then,” Julius cut in, a dark edge to his voice. “I end him.”
If Soma was bothered by the change in tone, he didn’t show it. “You haven’t met a man named Graham yet, have you?” he asked. He wrung his hands nervously.
Julius nodded. “The missionary, right? We met a little while ago. Talked from afar, but when he saw my face, he turned and ran.” Julius still didn’t understand why. Even with his memories back, the man was a stranger.
“He told me he was Dracula,” Soma said.
Ah. That explained it. He had known he was a Belmont. Still, it wasn’t adding up quite right—
“I did sense dark powers at work within him, but,” Julius began, “it’s difficult to believe that he’s Dracula. Rather, I think…” He trailed off, tapping his chin with the side of his fist as he thought. He looked at Soma, eyes intent, taking in every detail of the boy.
He had a bad feeling about him. The power that seemed to radiate off the child… Not only intense, it spoke of a connection to dark magic that Julius had never seen in another being before. And worse still, it had a familiarity he just could not shake. It was a bad omen, but one he couldn’t pin down.
Considering his past with Dracula, it painted a rather unsettling picture. Graham did not carry that same raw power, that mingling with the souls of monsters, that twisted feeling of déjà vu.
Julius didn’t like the explanation his brain suggested. But the signs were there, weren’t they? And Soma was the first he had met, as if drawn to him by fate. The Belmont family’s fate had always been intertwined with Dracula’s after all, like a twisted red string.
Yet, as he looked closer… all he saw was a young adult who had never hurt a soul, not until the eclipse. To describe Soma would be to describe abstract art; a swirl of colours and magics, souls in a hurricane, the eye of the storm a blue-white light—purity, innocence, similar to the feeling that some of the other benevolent magic user gave him. It was calming.
Was he overthinking this? Here he was, with a man claiming to be Dracula already, who was clearly familiar with him and afraid of him… and yet, yet, he was doubting that, wondering if the kind, overly trusting child in front of him could be the real threat.
Maybe he was getting too old for this. Maybe he was becoming paranoid after all these years. Perhaps, after this was over, he would retire.
“No, forget it,” Julius finished. His hand dropped to his side. “It’s nothing more than a hunch.” Instinctively, he went to grab his whip’s handle.
It wasn’t there.
Ah. Right. He had nearly forgotten.
“Huh?” Soma said, unaware of the currents of Julius’s thoughts.
“Assuming that he is Dracula,” Julius replied, switching the subject. “I won’t be able to kill him just yet.”
“Why not?” Soma asked, crossing his arms. He gave Julius a dubious look, just a hint of worry under the surface.
Julius’s fingers twitched. He wasn’t bad with knives, but they had always felt wrong. Now he remembered why. “I need my weapon.”
“Weapon?” Soma echoed.
“A whip—the Vampire Killer—it’s an old family heirloom given to me. It was in the hand’s of family friends once, but they trusted me with it again. It should be here still, sealed away to weaken the magic of the castle.” He had tried to plan ahead—planned for the chance of his own death. Julius hadn’t realised Dracula had wanted him to suffer instead.
“So… it’s a good thing it’s in the castle already, I suppose, but this place is like a maze…” Soma remarked. Julius’s lips twitched. Oh, he knew. He knew.
“The castle is magical; it changes, has almost a mind of its own,” Julius said, like he had recited that fact a million times. “Regardless, I know exactly where the whip is, so I need to make my leave to retrieve it.”
Soma stood straight. “Right. Good luck. I need to find Graham.”
Julius gave a nod. “Farewell for now,” he said. “And pray that my hunch proves to be wrong.”
He left swiftly, not wanting to see the confused, innocent look that was sure to be on Soma’s face. It would only make things harder if his fears turned true.
Finding the Vampire Killer had not been hard. He remembered exactly where it was. There was a single pro to losing one’s memories to a curse, he supposed—once they were returned, they were as fresh as the day he had lost them. Julius didn’t have to worry about the years wearing down on them, didn’t have to worry about misremembering after years of the memory changing ever so slightly.
It also made navigating the castle so much easier—no more guessing or half formed memories to guide him, but an easily visualized map sitting happily in his mind’s eye. Easier, even as he made his way through the dark waters, adapting to any subtle changes in layout.
He had to do some heavy backtracking to get to his weapon—it was nestled by an angel statue deep within the castle. At least it gave him time to think, to go over his memories and make peace with them one by one.
It was easier to accept the deaths of the people he once loved when he hadn’t remembered their faces for over 30 years.
It didn’t make him miss them any less.